A year ago, auto industry execs generally believed we’d be emerging from the tempest of astounding vehicle prices, the chip shortage and the supply chain crisis, and we might start feeling the welcome warmth of a return to normalcy. Life poured as much water on those notions as Mother Nature did in New England recently when she delivered enough rain and snow (in the middle of April!) to leave thousands without power. Lately, the prognosis for the future is getting worse, and Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe has the worst news yet. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the EV honcho said “Semiconductors are a small appetizer to what we are about to feel on battery cells over the next two decades.”
Scaringe believes the compacted timeline for switching millions of personal vehicle sales from ICE to battery-electric is going to expose the lack of preparedness along the entire battery supply chain, from mining to producing the final packs. Right now, “90% to 95% of the supply chain does not exist” to furnish the targets governments and OEMs have set for a decade from now. In the U.S. last year, 5% of overall vehicle sales were hybrids, 3% were EVs, both record numbers. To reach those percentages, lithium-ion battery demand has risen an average of 37% every year since 2015, the Journal saying this year will see a 50% jump.
No part of the battery industry can sustain that, and we’re not sure the Earth can, either. Lithium is earning its nickname as “white gold,” the quest for it pushing developments that could become for minerals what fracking is to oil, causing controversy among climate groups, and leading to statements like, “A lot of us understand blowing up a mountain for coal mining is wrong; I think blowing up a mountain for lithium mining is just as wrong.”
Wouldn’t it be funny if the history books record that humanity accelerated its rush into space because it had to find the minerals it needed to save the Earth? (Don’t worry, that’s coming.) We’re not sure if canaries are the bird of choice in lithium mines, but check out what Scaringe has to say in the Wall Street Journal.